Galaxy Tab to Use Chrome OS, Not Android?

Samsung's Galaxy Tab may have just barely arrived at the starting gates, but the rumor mill is already gearing up with speculation about what changes may be in store for the wildly anticipated "iPad killer."

In particular, a rumor is circulating that the Galaxy Tab is not only capable of running Google's forthcoming Chrome OS, but that the device will ultimately use that operating system instead of Android.

The Galaxy Tab's Android operating system "can be replaced with Chrome, when that arrives, though owners who aren't tech savvy should have this upgrade carried out by a professional," wrote yesterday's Sunday Times in a subscribers-only report that was quickly picked up on by Electricpig and others.

Now, a Samsung Mobile spokeswoman told me this morning that the company has no plans to substitute Chrome OS on the Galaxy Tab. Nonetheless, the idea is intriguing enough--and still seems just possible enough--to bear closer examination.

The Gingerbread Factor

Google has already said, of course, that Froyo, or Android 2.2, is not designed for use on tablets. Rather, it's optimized for the smaller screens found on smartphones. As a result, many Android Market apps will not run properly on Froyo-based tablets owing to their larger screen size.

That is widely expected to change with Gingerbread, or version 3.0, which Samsung has already said will be used to update the Galaxy Tab when it comes out later this fall. Then again, Google hasn't explicitly confirmed that Gingerbread will be more tablet-friendly. Maybe it has something else--like Chrome OS--in mind for tablets instead?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in fact, recently suggested that upcoming Google tablets will run Chrome OS rather than Android. HTC and Verizon are rumored to be working on a Chrome OS-based tablet for release this November.

More Like a Computer

The Chrome OS will offer a very different experience from what Android delivers. Both are open source, Linux-based operating systems, to be sure; yet Chrome has been designed from the start to focus on Web applications rather than the more traditional downloadable kind sold in the Android Market. The Chrome Web Store will be the main source of applications, and anyone with a web browser and an OpenID will be able to access it.

Owing to its early focus on netbooks, the operating system is also likely to feel more like a computer, and less like a mobile device. The cloud focus could make file storage, for instance, easier.

Chrome OS's user interface, meanwhile, is lean and spare, much like that of the Chrome browser. Speed will be a primary focus of the software, which reportedly takes up one-sixtieth as much space as Windows 7.

In general, Chrome OS-based devices are expected to target users who spend most of their time on the Internet. At least one media report has announced that Chrome OS will be released in October.

Which Is Better?

So, which operating system will be better for tablets like the Galaxy Tab? Here's a quick rundown of the potential pros and cons on each side.

Android

Pros:

  • It's wildly successful on smartphones.
  • It's already on tablets, and Samsung has already said it's planning on upgrading the Galaxy Tab to 3.0, which may be more tablet-friendly.
  • Compatibility with Android Market and the many thousands of apps available there.
  • Less reliance on the cloud, which may be more realistic for most current connectivity and usage situations.

Cons:

  • Froyo is not designed for tablets, and we don't actually know for sure that Gingerbread will be any better.
  • Google may have already decided to push Chrome OS in the tablet space instead of Android, as evidenced by select executive comments.
  • With its early focus on smartphones, file storage and other computer-like functions could be more cumbersome.

Chrome

Pros:

  • Speed.
  • Focus on Web apps and the cloud.
  • A more computer-like experience.

Cons:

  • It's not out yet, and so is still untested.
  • Reliance on the cloud could be problematic for some users.
  • Focus on Web apps rather than Android Market or App Store could exclude many favorite downloadable applications.

Which operating system would you prefer on your next tablet? Sound off in the comments.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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